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Before enrolling at Chapman University, it is safe to say that I had no idea of what interdisciplinarity was or what it entailed. Having encountered no efforts for interdisciplinary education at the elementary, middle, or high school I attended, it was an entirely foreign concept that I was completely ignorant of. After a semester of studying interdisciplinarity and experiencing it first hand, I consider myself a more well-rounded human being. As a Screenwriting major, I feel the topic of interdisciplinarity is extremely relevant and very easily employed in my chosen field of study.
The ultimate goal of interdisciplinary studies is to pursue and facilitate the “idea of unified science, general knowledge, synthesis and integration of knowledge” (Klein). Whenever we study a single discipline we start becoming conditioned to see the world from the viewpoint of that particular discipline or thinker within the discipline (Augsburg). In ancient times a purely disciplinary education was perfectly acceptable (Augsburg). However, as more and more disciplines saw the light of day due to societal advances, disciplinary education ran into the problem of leading to incomplete and disconnected knowledge (Augsburg).
Whenever we engage in disciplinary education, we inherently subscribe to thorough, strictly structured, regulated teaching procedures; it’s implied in the very word discipline itself (Augsburg). But in this modern world there are issues and developments that require more than just a focused understanding of a single discipline. The combination and integration of the insights and perspectives of various disciplines in order to create a more comprehensive and complete understanding is the noble goal that interdisciplinarity strives to achieve.
It is through this comprehensive and complete understanding that the problems of the modern world can be satisfactorily solved (Augsburg).
There are several distinct advantages to the practice of interdisciplinarity. The pursuit of a more complete understanding is the most prominent, but it also has the positive effect of aiding and, in some cases, fixing the shortcomings of the particular disciplinary insights being integrated (Augsburg). For example, if one wanted to study the existence of modern suicide cults, an interdisciplinary process would be extremely beneficial. The disciplinary insights of historical, religious, and psychological studies (to name just a few) could all be successfully integrated to better understand the unique and troubling problem in question. Furthermore, if there were a hypothetical shortcoming in the historical disciplinary insights, the insights of the religious and psychological disciplines could inspire a correction of the shortcoming in question and all three would work together to supplement the others. The study and the utilized disciplines themselves would be all the more complete due to theeffective integration of the insights of the three different disciplines.
The most important distinction I came across while studying interdisciplinarity was that of the difference between multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. While multidisciplinarity places different disciplinary insights side by side, it makes no effort to blend the disciplinary insights into a whole that functions in its own right (Augsburg). It is very easy for conferences and presentations by multiple disciplinary field workers to fall into the trap of multidisciplinarity (Augsburg). One would be privy to the viewpoints of many different disciplines, but there would be no attempt to see how the viewpoints of one disciple can combine with or work in relation to the viewpoints of another discipline (Augsburg).
For example, if there were a conference on nuclear energy and there was a presentation by both a physicist and a politician, you would have the benefits of seeing the topic of nuclear energy through the eyes of the discipline of physics and the discipline of politics, but would have to make connections regarding the relations of the two viewpoints on your own. It would be far more comprehensive and beneficial to have an interdisciplinary approach whereby the two disciplines are blended to offer a unified viewpoint that take into account the distinct insights of the disciplines acting as “ingredients”. There is also danger of falling into transdisciplinarity and cross-disciplinarity. While the impression I obtained of multidisciplinarity is negative, it seems to me that transdisciplinarity is even more influential than interdisciplinarity.
However, it seems very difficult to teach transdisciplinary approaches as they go beyond disciplines and don’t draw on the insights they provide, whereas interdisciplinarity is concerned with transcending disciplinary borders but not disciplines themselves (Augsburg). The impression I received from transdisciplinarity is that it almost happens by accident; transdisciplinary viewpoints end up influencing and absorbing multiple disciplines but are so broad in scope that they are not designed with multiple disciplines in mind (Augsburg). The most prominent example of transdisciplinarity is Communism (Augsburg). Cross-disciplinarity is rendered as flawed interdisciplinarity. While it can very well be interdisciplinarity in practice, it often fails. Cross-disciplinarity views one discipline in light of another; however if one discipline is “stronger” than the other, the “weaker” one is often given an unfairly small amount of attention (Augsburg). If disciplines in the hard sciences are paired up with liberal arts disciplines the liberal arts disciplines are often dealt an unfair hand, thus making interdisciplinarity more beneficial. There are three different forms of interdisciplinarity that come into play. Instrumental interdisciplinarity is the most practical form and comes into regular use in business and government (Augsburg).
Its focus is on the task at hand, and doesn’t necessarily concern itself with loftier concepts or theories (Augsburg). Instrumental interdisciplinarians are presented with a complex problem that cannot be resolved using insights of only a singular discipline and draw on the contributions of multiple disciplines so that they may solve the problem in question (Augsburg). Conceptual interdisciplinarity builds upon this with a goal to delve into how interdisciplinarity itself works and how interdisciplinarity and the disciplines can peacefully co exist (Augsburg). Critical interdisciplinarity can be seen as somewhat radical, as its main focus is on changing the normal structure of education and thinking to be more interdisciplinary whilst abolishing the reverence society in general shows towards disciplines (Augsburg). There are several positive results of becoming an interdisciplinarian or being exposed to interdisciplinarity. The various disciplines one can choose to drawn on and the drive it takes to pursue them to their fullest extent inspires initiative and a strong, confident nature (Augsburg).
The immense interdisciplinary process of drawing upon and engaging with multiple disciplines is quite lengthy, and thus interdisciplinarians learn to be patient (Augsburg). Due to the length of time required for interdisciplinary topics to run their course and the many roadblocks encountered whilst attempting to integrate multiple disciplines, interdisciplinarians are also very resilient thinkers and researchers (Augsburg). Also inherent is a stronger tolerance for others and acceptance of diversity, as interdisciplinarians need to be open to a large variety of viewpoints and insights from an even larger variety of sources within the disciplines they are attempting to integrate (Augsburg). And most obviously, interdisciplinarity encourages the ability to work well with others in a group, as collaboration and cooperation is essential to any complex problem being addressed with interdisciplinarity (Augsburg). Enrollment in the Honors Program enabled a firsthand experience of the different forms of interdisciplinarity. All three forms are readily utilized on the daily, even if one didn’t necessarily notice it right away.
Instrumental interdisciplinarity was evident in all of the “round table” discussion we had in Honors Forum, whereby complex questions were proposed by Dr. Peters and we debated on the best way to solve them. We were often asked to offer a unique viewpoint based on the discipline we had chosen to study at Chapman. By facilitating this kind of conversation, instrumental interdisciplinarity was coming into play. I remember several instances where a philosophy major and a political science major got involved in detailed discussions of how to approach different problems such as the structure of government and societal problems such as poverty. In addition, a physics major and a math major were often called on to contribute to discussions of space and the structure of the universe. As for conceptual interdisciplinarity, one has to look no further than this essay to see a prime example of it. By attempting to exhibit an understanding of interdisciplinarity, we are concerning ourselves with looking into how interdisciplinarity works and the processes by which it does so, which is the central focus of conceptual interdisciplinarity.
Furthermore, there were several discussions that occurred over the course of the Honors Forum class that were based on reconciling interdisciplinarity and the other disciplines that may cross our paths here at Chapman. As for critical interdisciplinarity, I cannot offer a clear cut example, but I am firmly convinced that interdisciplinarity has been instituted in all of the classes at this academy that do not deal with the trainingfor a specific art based field. For example, in hindsight, the FFC I was enrolled in was extremely interdisciplinary. The Italian-American Experience was a comprehensive and thorough course designed around integrating sociological, economical, artistic, and political together in order to fully convey the experience Italian-American immigrants were subject to. We were often instructed to combine the perspectives of different disciplines in the papers we wrote and were encouraged to think critically and comprehensively in class discussions.
The Honors course I’m enrolled in was also very interdisciplinary, as we utilized the insights of science, philosophy and logic in order to fully address the debate as to whether there is a God above us. Perhaps it was due to a criticism of strict disciplinary educations that such examples of interdisciplinarity are present in the curriculum of the academy. However, experiencing some interdisciplinarity first hand was also evident of the challenges inherent with the practice. The Honors course was impeccable in execution, but the interdisciplinarity of the FFC was occasionally flawed in execution. Oftentimes certain disciplines were skimmed over and not given an in-depth integration. This can lend itself to multidisciplinarity and contributes to the accusations that interdisciplinarity is often shallow (Augsburg). Self-motivation is also a prime aspect of interdisciplinarians (Augsburg), and the fact that FFCs are populated with students of a wide variety of intelligence and motivation did it no favors.
The professor tried his hardest to facilitate interdisciplinary activities and learning, but the fact that many students were simply focused on getting out of the class as quickly as possible impeded learning. The students in my Honors course were not preyed upon by this apathy. But perhaps this was due to another common criticism of interdisciplinary studies; that the practitioners lack a solid basis in the insights of the disciplines that are being studied (Augsburg). More students in my FFC would have been engaged in the subject material had they had more experience with college level versions of disciplines such as politics and economics. Since the Honors program contains many students who took AP or IB level classes, they are blessed with a more complete base of knowledge and previous experience of rigor of study. Indeed the Honors program seems like the perfect environment for interdisciplinarity to occur, as we are studying the insights of several disciplines through our majors, minors, Honors courses, and general education and then are encouraged to integrate and utilize all of them. Interdisciplinary courses and interdisciplinarity foster more critical thinkers and better students and people in general.
One has to look no further than the examples up above for a reason to want to integrate it in their respective academy. Luckily for me, Screenwriting is a discipline and major that is able to enjoy the benefits of interdisciplinarity very easily. This is because a screenplay can, in theory, be about literally anything the screenwriter in question so desires. However, for that screenplay to resonate and affect an audience it has to be relevant and realistic, which is aided by an interdisciplinary approach. I think instrumental interdisciplinarity is explicitly relevant to screenwriting, whereas conceptual interdisciplinarity is implicitly related. Though the concept of critical interdisciplinarity is intriguing, I don’t think the structure of teaching screenwriting needs to be revamped in order to be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion. I think education involving screenwriting should revolve around the technical aspects of a script format and how to utilize literary devices to captivate an audience; no interdisciplinarity is necessary in the actual training itself.
Instrumental interdisciplinarity would be the most enriching with the primary motivation being the need to create realistic and relatable environments, situations, and characters in the movie you are writing. If you are writing a script set in Revolutionary France, you would have to integrate historical, sociological, political, and economical insights in order to create an accurate setting. As for the characters in this particular script you would have to engage in such interdisciplinary activities as researching the psychological effects of certain historical events and how they would play into the characters you intend to create. Even scripts set in fantasy realms would benefit from interdisciplinary research. For example, if there were a script about an evil elven dictator, one could still successfully integrate historical accounts of dictators based in reality and the societal and psychological impacts a dictator furnishes.
Movies are an amazing format by which society is influenced and affected and proper interdisciplinary research can and does allow movies to make challenging claims about current societal issues and the factors affecting them. Conceptual interdisciplinarity is implicit in my discipline, yet again driven by the motivation to create scripts that are realistic and relevant to modern circumstances. Let’s say a screenwriter who has never before been exposed to interdisciplinarity is told by a producer that his script wouldn’t resonate with audiences. The screenwriter would attempt to research a variety of disciplines to make it more relevant to modern society. He would inevitably arrive at an eventual mention of interdisciplinarity and what it is and does. He would study interdisciplinarity in order to better understand how to integrate multiple disciplines to reach his end goal. His study of interdisciplinarity and the subsequent integration of multiple disciplines would constitute conceptual interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity is a very rewarding concept to pursue. It establishes well-rounded, deep thinkers who draw on the insights of multiple disciplines to address complex questions. It inspires countless positive personal attributes such as cooperation, resilience, and tolerance. Effective institution of interdisciplinarity can solve virtually any problem. I am very grateful to having had my eyes opened to its various benefits.
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